Leviticus 10:1-20. Dangerous grace

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Perhaps the earliest use of this idea appears in Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:48. The counterpoint is the Biblical theme that with grace comes a responsibility to act on it. The greater the grace, the greater our responsibility to honour the gift. If we refuse, then the mercy offered us may become part of our judgement. [Audio | Notes]

Michael Flynn


Leviticus 10:1-20

For further thought

This story begins in Chapter 8 of Leviticus with the preparations for a day that symbolised the fulfilment of God’s promises to Moses (Exodus 3.12) and the final freedom of Israel from its chattel slavery to Egypt (Exodus 4.22). The highlight of the story is in Leviticus 9.22-24. Where all the people see the glory of God not just Moses and the elders (Exodus 33.18-23; 40.34-38). As the book of Exodus details the construction of the tabernacle and items for use in worship so Leviticus details the offerings to be made and tells the story of the consecration of the High Priest and Priests who would lead the Levites in the service of God in the tabernacle.

The offering of Nadab and Abihu was wrong according to what they already knew. For example, in verse 1, they use their incense trays – rather than the official ones. In verse 2,  they use unauthorised fire – that is, not from the altar. 

Deuteronomy 4.23,24 seems to refer back to this occasion and associates it with the idolatry of the nations surrounding Israel. Leviticus 10.8-11 may also imply that Nadab and Abihu had been enjoying the celebrations too much – that is, they were drunk and therefore careless. All of which would remind the older generation of the first time Aaron led God’s people in worship. 

Q: Read Exodus 32.1-6, 22-24. What parallels is there with the scene in Chapters 9 & 10 of Leviticus? What are the differences? Why is it a serious matter? 

Q: Is it unusual for young men to know the rules but still try to bend them?

Often this passage in Leviticus 10 is applied to church leaders leveraging passages like James 3.1 but if in the New Testament we have a High Priest in Jesus Christ is it only our ministers who are the Priests now? No. The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2.9,10 points out that all followers of Christ are Priests. People who bring the world to God and God to the world. The brilliance of the new covenant is that it restores God’s intention for his people – to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19.6) before that plan was derailed by the people’s disobedience in the episode of the golden calf (Exodus 32.29). 

Q: How can we do the work of Priests in the lives God has given us?

Read Hebrews 12.18-29 which ends with the image from the opening of Leviticus 10. 

Q: Is our responsibility diminished by the greater grace of the New Covenant? 

Q: Why or why not?

Talk outline

God’s grace is more demanding than we think

With great grace comes great responsibility

Our privilege and responsibility is more significant than we realise.